Young people in some English-speaking countries like the US, the UK and Australia are speaking a strange language these days, especially when they are communicating on social media.
Take these tweets curated by The Washington Post for example: “David Bowie dying is totes tradge,” and “When Cookie hugged Jamal it made me totes emosh.”
Or take this sentence, cited by the Australian news website News.com.au: “BAE, LMK if you stay in tonight because I’ll have serious FOMO.”
What on earth do they mean? Well, “totes” is a short form of the adverb “totally”. Likewise, “tradge” means “tragic” and “emosh” means “emotional”. It seems that, for millennials, typing in this abbreviated form is not only time-saving but hip. As to the last sentence, it means: “Babe, let me know if you stay in tonight because I’ll have serious fear of missing out.”
它们到底是什么意思？好吧，“totes”是副词“totally”的缩写，而“tradge”就是“tragic”，“emosh”是“emotional”。对零零后来说，使用这些缩写似乎不仅是节约时间，更是一种潮流。上面引用的第三句话，意思是“宝贝，如果你今晚在家务必要告诉我（LMK :let me know），因为我特别害怕错过和你见面的机会 （FOMO: fear of missing out）。”
As you can see, many millennial slang words are formed by what linguists call the practice of “totesing” – the systematic abbreviation of words, according to an article in The Washington Post. The trend might have started with “totally” becoming “totes”, but it now has spread to many other English words.
The origins of other millennial slang expressions are more complicated than “totesing”. “Bae”, for example, has been widely used by African-Americans for years, according to an article in The Guardian. It can be an expression of intimacy with one’s romantic partner or, like “sweetheart”, a term of affection for someone with whom there is no romantic connection. After pop singer Pharrell and Miley Cyrus used the word in their work, “bae” became mainstream.
Some people might think that millennial slang debases the English language, but Melbourne University linguist Rosey Billington doesn’t agree.
“When you are able to use language in a creative way, you show you are linguistically savvy because you know the language rules well enough to use words in a different way,” Billington says in an interview with News.com.au.
Her view is echoed by two linguists, Lauren Spradlin and Taylor Jones, from the City University of New York and the University of Pennsylvania respectively. The two analyzed hundreds of examples of totes-speak. They discovered that totesing has remarkably complex roots.
It isn’t simply an adult version of baby talk, nor is it a clever way to minimize your word count on social media. Rather, totes-speak is a highly organized system that relies on a speaker’s mastery of English pronunciation.
The ability to break apart syllables and mash different sounds together is key. For example, “people disagree on whether ‘casual’ becomes caj, cazh or cajs, but they all agree on how to pronounce the shortened word.”
“Totesing is about sounds, and it conforms to the sometimes complicated sound system of English,” Jones tells The Washington Post in an interview. Totesing is not random. On the contrary, it has strict rules to follow. You need to be very fluent in the English language to be able to grasp totes-speak.